Friday, 31 October 2014

A Little Out of the Ordinary.

I took a little train trip this morning, and saw what has become a rare sight on trains. Everybody in my field of vision bar one was talking to a companion. None of them was poking or stroking a smart phone or a tablet. The one exception was a man sitting alone, reading a book with a picture of a cat on the cover. That, too, is something you don't see every day.

Ups and Downs.

Being in a somewhat fretful mood earlier, I decided to read some old email correspondence I had a few years ago with a very special person. I’m not generally given to nostalgia, but occasionally it creeps up on you grinning furtively. I realised what a tale of thrills and disasters would have followed the eating of such exotic fruit, and decided I should be glad it never ripened. Rollercoasters are for the young who still have a head for heights and a stomach to stand the plunges. It did irritate me, however, that she made a promise which she never kept and never will. She made it twice in fact – once verbally, and then repeated in an email. Some loose ends I like, and some I don’t.

*  *  *

Today I received a cheque for £42 in the post, a small royalty payment for a couple of pictures used in a magazine. It isn’t much is it, £42? That’s about the price of two litres of scotch. I decided not to see it that way, reasoning that getting a cheque for £42 is £84 better than getting a bill for £42. That’s four litres of scotch. And that led me on to the old matter of perception again.

Let’s suppose you’re hit with an unexpected problem which costs you £1,000 to put right, and then a week later you win £1,000 on the lottery. You’d feel lucky, wouldn’t you? You’d see the win as Dame Fortune smiling on you, reimbursing you for the unforeseen expenditure.

But suppose it happened the other way round – you get the win first, but then have to spend it on the unforeseen problem. You’d be likely to think ‘just when I win some money, it gets taken away from again.’ How ruled we are by perception and accidents of timing.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Today's Little Nothings.

In trying to make sense of the oppressor, I came up with a thought that’s been running through my head all day:

‘All things seem simple to the simple-minded.’

*  *  *

I decided that the most polished acting performance in Lord of the Rings came from John Noble as Denethor. Did he get any awards? How many people even know his name?

*  *  *

Comments on YouTube continue to remind me what a gulf there is between the monkey and the angel in the human condition.

*  *  *

I met the lovely Judy again this afternoon. Judy is Farmer Stan’s Border Collie, and she’s drop-dead gorgeous. She reminds me of Em, my own Border Collie. Em and I loved one another quite insanely, but she died young.

*  *  *

This usually gives me a lift – a comely wench from Texas coaxing a banjo like it’s part of her body, and with a couple of clean-cut young boys clearly in thrall. There’s no doubting who’s the boss. The body language is as enthralling as the banjo playing.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Tommy's Legacy.

I’m still suffering a bit of a hangover from having a horse nuzzle my cheek. (He was a very handsome palomino hunter called Tommy. 16½ hands of unadulterated magnificence.)

How come it’s taken me this long to get the elegance, the nobility, the intelligence and the sensitivity of horses? Not to mention the sheer character they exude, whether it be a palomino hunter, a piebald nag or a Shetland pony. I never had a problem getting women and dogs, so why not horses?

Don’t know, but I’ve started to have intriguing imaginings around the concept of a conversation between a dog and a horse. Maybe I’ll write about it one day.

(One thing I never had a problem with is how good women look on horseback, especially if their hair is flying free and the surf is splashing nicely.)

Not Explaining Humour.

I made a post back in the summer about an Englishman who had to be rescued after he’d set sail for America in a small dinghy equipped with some biscuits and a map of Southampton.

To me, this isn’t merely foolhardy, it’s almost insanely funny. It touches one of the top funny buttons, but I can’t explain why.

Tonight I got a recommendation from YouTube featuring the ‘Indian version’ of I Love Lithuania.

I can’t explain why that’s almost insanely funny, either.

And then there was the actress I knew once to whom I quoted a famous quip made by Dorothy Parker about the Yale Prom:

If all the girls attending it were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

The actress’s face remained blank. I tried to explain why it was funny. I failed.

Monday, 27 October 2014

LOTR: A Curmudgeon's Tale.

I’ve just finished watching the extended edition of the much-vaunted The Lord of the Rings trilogy twice, back-to-back over the past two weeks, and I discovered something interesting.

When you watch a film for the first time your attention is, to some extent at least, distracted from the finer points of direction and dialogue because you’re engaged in following the plot. But if you watch it a second time so soon afterwards, you don’t pay as much attention to the plot because you know what’s coming next at every juncture. And that’s when something magical happens.

A veil is lifted from your eyes, and you realise just how much you missed while your critical faculty was napping.

An Equine First.

The most extraordinary thing just happened. A horse nuzzled my cheek. No horse has ever done that before.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

On Meeting the Sky.

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that western skies at twilight have enthralled me since I was about twelve years old. They have moods, you see, just as we do, and with seemingly as much variation.

Last night’s sky was straight laced and organised – a single red bar along the horizon with uniform grey above. But sometimes they’re angry, sometimes they’re confused, sometimes they’re wild and headstrong, sometimes they’re soft and seductive, sometimes they’re timid, sometimes they’re loud, sometimes they’re darkly dismal, and sometimes they’re just plain bland. Tonight’s sky was quietly wistful and a little melancholy. I watched it for quite some time.

And that brings me to another point. Sometimes the mood of the sky matches your own, at which point a connection happens. A marriage of moods, as it were. At other times they don’t, on which occasion you become a disinterested observer taking yet another trip through the medium of the senses into perception of the abstract.

Liking and Disliking.

You know, there’s a person out there in cyberspace who I think is not only the most interesting person I’ve ever encountered, but whom I’ve also grown to like immensely. This is unusual for me.

I like lots of things – kids, animals, birds, trees, fog, good coffee, alcohol, chip butties… but rarely people. This one I do.

So what is it about a certain person that makes you like them? That isn’t as easy to answer as it might seem.

What really worries me, though, is when I find myself miming to girl band songs.

And isn’t it infuriating when you settle to watch a good video accompanying a good song, and suddenly there’s an ad banner stretched across the screen which says Your computer is slow? How many shades of offensive are contained in that presumptuous little slogan? But at least it converts your suicidal tendency into a homicidal one, so I suppose it does you a sort favour.

Risky Clicks and Woolly Words.

I clicked a ‘dislike’ on a YouTube track tonight. That’s a risky thing to do, since it’s rumoured that the backroom boys at Google are keeping a list of all who dare express a negative opinion. And they’ve raised an army from the ranks of the infamous YouTube orcs, to be held in readiness in case any such detractor also makes a public statement about Google which might be deemed to be pejorative. If you get yourself on both lists, the orcs will track you down and eat your legs.

And I see that we now have a new verb gracing the English language, courtesy of YouTube and social networking sites: to unlike. No doubt the schools curriculum will soon include instruction on the difference between ‘unlike’ and ‘dislike,’ just as it currently does on the difference between ‘uninterested’ and ‘disinterested.’ The effort will probably meet with a similar level of success, especially among journalists.

I’m not in the mood for communicating at the moment, as you might have surmised from the unpolished nature of this missive. It’s just that I’m on thirteen posts this month and I’m superstitious.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

A Closing Note.

Whilst succumbing to the need of a final glass of anaesthetic, I was listening to two Canadians and an Aussie singing a song about a bro’kin heart. It’s here if you don’t believe me:

I wonder what version of English the Russians learn.

Being Rude in Ashbourne.

I was at a cash point today, and every so often it beeped to tell me:

Here’s your card returned
Here’s your cash
Here’s your receipt

(Although it isn’t a receipt at all, of course, since you haven’t supplied the machine with anything. It’s actually a transaction slip, but that’s bankers for you. Their forte is daylight robbery; their use of English sometimes leaves a lot to be desired – like subjecting the odd banking executive to public execution, for example.) But anyway…

I noticed that the beeping was being echoed by a human voice behind me, so I turned around to assess its source. There was a little man going beep-beep, beep-beep every time the machine did, and when I turned to look at him, he said ‘Heh, heh. It’s all beeps these days, isn’t it?’

I wasn’t in the mood for trivial repartee, and I decided he’d stolen my line anyway – apart from the ‘heh, heh,’ that is – so I ignored him and moved on. That was rude of me, wasn’t it?

I like being rude to people occasionally, but I don’t do it anything like often enough. It’s a fault I inherited from my mother.

Other Ashbourne News:

1. We’re to get a fourth supermarket. Hooray.

2. The woman in the pet shop where I buy the wild bird food is interested in existentialism. That came as a surprise.

3. Rosie, the (relatively) new checkout operator in Sainsbury’s, has old soul eyes. I like old soul eyes.

And that’s about it. I’ve had enough of today, so I’m going to bed. (I’ve usually had enough of today about ten minutes before I get up.)

Wednesday, 22 October 2014


There’s a scene in The Fellowship of the Ring in which Bilbo walks away from the Shire with the words ‘I won’t be coming back.’ How I envied him, but there are no Rivendells within walking distance of this Shire.

And I wrote the following comment on somebody’s blog post tonight:

It might be worth acknowledging that blossom blown by the wind never becomes fruit.

I thought better of posting it.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014


I read a news report today about an 86-year-old woman who starved herself to death. It seems she was suffering increasing incidence of ill health, and although none of the conditions were terminal, she said that life was becoming intolerable. Since assisted suicide isn’t legal in Britain, she simply stopped eating and died five weeks later. That’s what I call dedication to the cause of self-determination. It must have taken a lot of strength.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Lord of the Rings: A Complaint.

At the Council of Elrond, the Great Elf himself is explaining to the assembled company that The Ring cannot be used against Sauron, since Sauron is the only being to whom it answers. He tells them that The Ring must be destroyed, and that the only way to do so is to return it to the fires from whence it came.

From whence? Did I hear that correctly? Do Peter Jackson and his two handmaidens who wrote the screenplay not know that ‘from whence’ is arguably the best known of all classic tautologies fit only for people who comment on YouTube? And where were the actors while this mess of illiteracy was being served up? Why was nobody crying in anguish – or even the dark tongue of Mordor – ‘It’s not “from whence.” It’s just plain “whence.” Whence, whence, whence. Whence it came. Whence means “from where.” Get it? What kind of a production is this?’

It surprised me. It did. You’d think there would have been somebody who would have stepped up to the plate and put Sir Peter right, wouldn’t you? Like a script editor? Go on, somebody tell me it was deliberate, just so we know that English isn’t Elrond’s native tongue. I might even believe you.

You might think I’m nit-picking in saying this, but I don’t see it that way. If language is to appear in published form, it should be right. And I think it’s damn near certain that Tolkien, a philologist by profession, would have agreed. The Undying Lands must be echoing with his moans of anguish.

In the Mind of the Beholder.

Following on from the last post, I thought that while I’m still sitting on a rock crying over Gandalf, I might post a video I’ve been watching a lot lately.

It’s supposed to be about images of joy, but the editor clearly intends you to see it as images of beauty – beauty being an essential corollary of joy, granted, but here’s the problem:

The beauty you’re supposed to be wowed by is the physical beauty of The Woman, but for me she’s only fifth in line. My list, in order of precedence, would be:

1. The kids, and especially the little girl being cradled to the chest of the big girl. Is there anything more beautiful than a child grinning?

2. The horse. One of the big revelations of this year has been that I’m starting to ‘get’ horses, and they seem to be responding.

3. The flamingo – moving, but you have to wonder how they got the shots.

4. The step off the ledge and the plummet into the pool. Something to do with giving yourself up to freefall, I suppose.

5. The Woman, but only at 2.31 – 2.33 where she has the look of the Lady B about her.

It’s fortunate that the Lady B doesn’t read this blog any more, or else she would probably stop speaking to me for saying that. Come to think of it, she doesn’t speak to me these days anyway, so it doesn’t really matter. (Not many people do, you know. I think it must be the hairstyle.)

Sunday, 19 October 2014

No Promises.

The past couple of weeks have been spent in the Mines of Moria. So much darkness, so many demons and monsters to contend with. (Monsters come at you from the shadows, demons catch you in a pincer movement from within. I could expand at length, but I won’t.)

So should I now make that post about what it says on the mouthwash bottle? I think not – too trivial for a tired hobbit sans fellowship. And the enemy has only retired to re-group, so we’ll see how it goes.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Cameron: A Truth by Accident.

It’s the party political conference season in Britain. It’s always been known as the Silly Season, and so it is. Puffed up politicians strut and posture, while The Faithful in the audience put their search for a brain cell on hold for a week and instead make grimacing faces and squeaky noises with their mouths and loud clapping sounds with their hands. How much sillier can you get? And it really is painful to behold. It is.

Anyway, the Tories are having their little bash at the moment, and today David – ‘Oh I say, is this one of those ghettos we created?’ – Cameron had an embarrassing moment. The Tories, you see, are currently running scared of  the clowns on the loony right – the United Kingdom Independence Party – who are not only stealing their MPs, but also threatening to split the centre-right vote at the next election. (Yes, there really are people in Britain planning to vote UKIP. I know, I know…)

So, today the emphasis was on poor children growing up in underprivileged conditions. (The idea being to get the traditional Labour voters to change their spots.) The autocue from which Cameron was reading his speech had a line which read ‘We represent these people.’ Only Cameron didn’t say that, he said ‘We resent these people.’ He got it wrong… or did he?

Of course, politicians used to have trigger notes but spoke mostly from the heart or the head. Today’s politicians read from autocues, like TV presenters. The show must go on, and the brain dead audience think they have to watch the speakers’ mouths instead of just breaking ranks and reading from the autocue themselves.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Passing Traffic.

I was out trimming my front hedge today. That’s the one adjacent to the lane, and so it affords the opportunity to watch the life of the Shire going about its daily business. It isn’t usually all that interesting, but today I was given a little lift by two brief encounters.

The first was the passing by of HT54, and today I got a wave. I don’t always get a wave from HT54, or at least if I do, it isn’t always patently evident. HT54 needs to be rather more effusive in its mode of waving. A handbrake turn would suit nicely, preferably a proper 360° one.

And then down the road came a group of three beings a-walking. The three consisted of a red haired woman leading a piebald nag, on the back of which sat a little blonde girl of around seven or eight. I’d seen the woman leading the nag up the road earlier towards the school, and so I asked the little human ‘Is that your taxi?’ She didn’t answer, but the horse stopped and turned its head to look at me.

‘My word,’ I said enthusiastically, ‘you’re a fine fellow, aren’t you?’ Or some such. (What do you say to horse which is looking at you sideways?)

The horse didn’t answer either, he just stood there looking at me sideways while the little human tapped his flanks with her heels. The horse ignored her entreaties. He wasn’t very tall, but I reckon he had some shire in his ancestry, and his voluminous chest was probably little impressed at being tapped by a pair of tiny human heels.

‘I think you’d better go now,’ I continued. ‘I think your human wants to move on.’

‘Oh, that’s all right,’ said the bigger human. ‘He’s always stopping and talking to people. He likes to stop and talk sometimes.’

This is encouraging. Could it be, I wonder, that there is another human in the Shire who matches me on the oddness scale? Maybe I’ll have company when they finally chase me to the burning mill with pitchforks, and it’ll give the horse something to talk about the next day.

You know, there was a time when HT54 used to stop and talk to me. Maybe these days, HT54s are less tolerant of odd humans than horses who like to talk. I expect HT54 will be at the head of the torch bearing party when the day finally arrives.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Kate the Great.

I was going to report on another conversation I had with somebody in Ashbourne today, but it involved her experience of finding the body of a man who’d blown his brains out with a shotgun in his garden one morning. The problem was that I couldn’t get my mind off a certain track – to turn it into something darkly comic. That seemed in unacceptably bad taste even by my standards, so I deleted it and decided on something more wholesome instead.

*  *  *

It might be said that in musical terms, Kate Bush was my first love, the best love, and the one I always return to sooner or later. I’m on another Kate Kick at the moment. I listen to stuff she recorded in the 70s and 80s and it still sounds fresh as the morning dew. I suppose that’s because she never followed trends or fitted in with any prescribed style. She did her own thing at every turn.

The thing about KB’s music is that it goes beyond the mere matter of meaningful lyrics, engaging melodies, driving rhythms and imaginative arrangements in their own right. It’s classic cocktail stuff in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And that whole produces a mood, an atmosphere, a sense of something deep that gets deeper the more you listen to it. At least, that’s the effect it has on me.

The following is one of her 80s classics. Personally, I dislike the video that accompanies it, but that’s just a matter or personal sensibility. I daresay there are lots of video alternatives on YouTube, but I can’t be bothered to look. I can always close my eyes and feel the atmosphere.

*  *  *

And talking of freshness, shortly after I woke up this morning I had a vision of an early summer morning. The sun was shining and there was dew on the grass, and I felt the freshness of youth for the first time in a long time. It lasted about two seconds, but it was nice to be reminded.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Small Town England in Twos.

I was in the waiting area of the local hospital today, waiting (appropriately) for Alan the podiatrist to turn up. (Making your living as a landscape photographer might enrich the soul, but it’s the feet which pay the price. Eventually they complain and have to be pacified.) Alan usually runs a bit late, so I settled down with a paper cup containing a brown liquid which cost a whole 50p from the vending machine and purported to have its origins in the fruit of the cacao plant. Bit rash, really, but at least the TV was on in the corner, so I turned to that for further amusement.

It was showing one of those amusingly crass morning magazine programmes, and I joined it just as it was going into the crime slot. This morning’s offering featured a very nice young policeman explaining, very nicely and at considerable length, how to keep your bike from being stolen if you have to park it in a public place. The presenter, whose presentational skills were slightly inferior to those of the very nice young policeman, looked very interested. (‘Nice’ is a wholly appropriate adjective in a post like this, and ‘very’ eminently fitted to be explored in all its forms.) To be more accurate, the presenter looked as though she was trying her best to appear to be very interested, but as I said…

Two minutes later I turned to the local paper lying on the coffee table in front of me. The front page was dominated by a big headline:


It seems the local council need some money to keep the little red, white and blue flags flying patriotically over the High Street. That’s this week’s big news in Ashbourne, and they are the only two reportable happenings from JJ’s trip to the local hospital. Sorry.

So then it was off to the town proper, where I became embroiled in conversation with the manageress of one of the charity shops. I learned that:

a. She comes from a town about 100 miles from here which featured heavily in my early adult life.

b. As well as running the Ashbourne shop, she also runs the Uttoxeter one.

And from her I was made acquainted with two hitherto unknown facts:

a. The Palace Cinema, Wellingborough, where I spent many a happy hour in the early years of my adult life, which maintained its independent status far longer than most, and which featured significantly in one of my published stories, is now a snooker hall. Time took its toll, as it does.

b. There is a previously unremarked difference between the people of Ashbourne and the people of Uttoxeter. (Readers of longstanding might remember earlier posts on that very subject.) Ashbourne people pay the price on the ticket; Uttoxeter people haggle. Figures.

A Lapine Luck Conundrum.

I gather most western cultures have a different version of the ‘rabbits’ theme for the first day of the month. Where I grew up it was required to say out loud ‘white rabbits, white rabbits, white rabbits’ before uttering anything else if you wanted to have good luck for the rest of the month.

But nobody ever told me what the rule is if you stay up after midnight. Are the auspicious words to be uttered as soon as the clock strikes twelve, or should you wait until you wake up the next morning? And if you try to play it safe and do both, does one negate the other? This could explain a lot.

Swept by Fickle Tides.

I’ve noticed that I become a different person at different times of the day, and the differences are becoming more extreme. Sometimes in the morning, I find it difficult to believe that I wrote the blog post I made at 2am.

My ex, Mel, thinks it’s all to do with being hypersensitive to variations in the diurnal energies, and I’m inclined to think there might be some truth in it. If so, and if you’re sensitive to them, it would mean that those energies would sweep you to one shore in the morning, another in the afternoon, yet another after dark, and a different one again around and beyond midnight. That’s how it feels.

I think this might have something to do with living alone and having little contact with people generally. If you live with a partner or in a family unit, and if you go out to work and to socialise and so on, the routine presence of other people keeps you constantly making a subconscious effort to walk a middle line. To use the classic phrase, they ‘keep you centred.’ That’s because in order to interact closely with those people you need to be relatively consistent, and so you resist the natural pull of the energies. If you don’t do those things, however, you don’t need to make the effort and consequently get thrown about all over the place.

Alternatively, you might just be mentally ill.